John Andrist: Free Speech Requires Dilligence

Dallas Cowboys players kneel together with their arms locked prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.

I don’t remember hearing those words as a child. But I remember my parents using the admonition to mollify my little brother.

Our family was sometimes a warring bunch, and when Willie came along he was an easy target for three siblings entering their teen years.

My parents weren’t meaning to justify trash talk or mean dialogue. It was simply meant to help remind Willie he should learn to ignore the meanness that came from his older siblings or angry friends.

This week we’ve witnessed our whole country — our president, his political opponents, and our press — go ballistic over what the president said to bereaving parents of a fallen soldier.

And it has made none of them look good. How sad that we can get wrapped up in something so trivial in the final scheme of things.

So I think it is a good time for the rest of us to say, “Sticks and . . .

And another thing

At the same time there is a larger philosophical discussion about words that all of us should have.

The stronger we feel about a controversial subject, the more inclined we are to try silence the voices of dissent.

Think how much money and energy has been spent over a handful of football players taking a knee during the National Anthem. I certainly don’t like the practice, but on my radar screen it just doesn’t rise to the level of a North Korean nuclear bomb threat.

Perhaps it’s been led by our new intimidator-in-chief. Then again it could be a result that in today’s world more people hang around the poles of public discussion, forgoing the equator.

Right now there is a southern white supremacist making speeches on college campuses. Yet the furor from well-meaning protesters is causing more problems than this misguided dude himself.

Think how much money and energy has been spent over a handful of football players taking a knee during the National Anthem.

I certainly don’t like the practice, but on my radar screen it just doesn’t rise to the level of a North Korean nuclear bomb threat.

We’re told that 80 percent of the scientific community believe human activity is contributing to global warming. I believe them. But is it really productive to marginalize, belittle, and ostracize that minority that believes otherwise?

The older I get the more convinced I become that aborting a fetus equates to killing a real human life. It is probably the longest running unresolved social issue of our time. But must we try silence those with equally strong views on the other side?

There is no other country on the face of the earth that has such a strong First Amendment culture as our own.

But the more divided we become on an issue the more likely we are to want to tell the other guys to “shut up.”

So, something outrageous is said, and we succeed in silencing it. Does it change thinking? Or humble hearts?

Methinks a better choice is to “out-civil” the other voice.

You and I have a right to know

I’ve been on both sides of the “open meeting, open records” debate.

As a lifelong journalist it was an open and shut no-brainer. After 22-years in the legislature I remained a true believer, but could better understand that there really are times, although few, when it could be productive to provide for some privacy in a few situations.

But I am at a loss to understand how the governor and legislature could so cavalierly decide the public should be closed out of the process of hiring substantive state administrators.

At this moment the State Industrial Commission has narrowed the candidate field for a new commissioner to eight, and the new law permits secrecy until they get down to three.

The guy they pick will administer 2.5 million acres of land and minerals and manage a trust worth $2.5 billion. And it’s none of your business who it might be?

This is one of those colossal mistakes steam rolled through the legislature by higher education and our new governor.

Gov. Burgum apparently feels it is proper to run the state the same way he ran his own business, and legislators have agreed.

On top of that Burgum is chairman of the Industrial Commission which also runs the Bank of North Dakota and State Mill and Elevator.

They compounded things last week when they failed to give legally required public notice of a meeting.

Last week the University of North Dakota fired their athletic director and bought his acquiescence by paying him $197,000 not to work in 2018 — then tried to hide it.

Secrecy breeds mischief. Legislators should realize they were had on this one, and get it fixed the next time around.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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